Note: While this post was written nearly a decade ago, the research cited remains relevant today.
1999 was the year of me! 2009 may be the year of us!
At least that is what we may infer from a new survey of seventy executive coaches conducted by WJM Associates, an executive coaching firm located in New York City. As the survey states, “the change [in coaching priorities] seems to reflect the trend of executive coaching being used by organizations to address specific business issues, rather than for individual, general ‘self-improvement’.”
This makes good business sense. 1999 was a good year. It was a time of the new economy when e commerce was transforming the way people and business interact and operate. Top five coaching objectives 1999 were for “self-awareness, personal goal setting, work/life balance, stress management [and] improve quality of life.” 2009 is a very different. We are mired in the deepest economic downturn since World War II. Analyzing today’s coaching priorities which are specifically requested by client and their employers gives us a handle on how businesses are coping with the huge upheaval.
Build/Align/Motivate Team. Organizations need executives who know how to get people to follow their lead, especially in challenging times. It takes a leader who knows how to assemble the right people and put them in the right places so they can do the right work. Motivating them comes from providing them with the right resources and right opportunities. This is not always easy when resources are scarce so the leader needs to be seen as doing what she can to help her team succeed.
Executive presence. Leaders need to demonstrate their earned authority. Presence is the manifestation of earned authority that comes from knowing how to do things as well as having earned the respect of others. Another critical aspect of presence is composure. Leaders need to keep it together when everything else around them is falling apart. Leaders demonstrate their mettle during crisis.
Effective communications. If you want to lead others, connect with them. Yes, it is imperative to articulate the message, the goal, and the outcome. But you also need to invest yourself. That comes from listening to others as well as allowing others to give you honest feedback. Learning from what you listen is critical to moving the organization forward. Use the down time to learn more about the capabilities of your people.
Interpersonal savvy. As Harvard author and psychologist, Daniel Goleman, has taught us, leaders must be able to get along with others. The ability to relate to others as a fellow human being is essential to gaining buy in for a leadership objective. Sure you can tell people what to do, but if you do not earn their trust you will get compliance, not commitment. Being everyone’s pal is not necessary, but treating others with respect is essential gaining trust, an attribute that is essential to holding teams together in trying times.
Strategic thinking. So often we coaches hear the need for managers to think and act more strategically. A reason more managers do not do so is because their bosses keep them occupied with tactics so they do not have time to think let alone act strategically. Therefore, senior leaders must give their direct reports room to breathe, reflect and consider alternatives that will affect not just a department but also the enterprise. Now is a great time to map out new strategies that may help your company find ways to make the best of bad times.
Of these five, only “executive presence” is focused on the individual; the other four are focus on relationships with others or in the case of “strategic thinking” what executives can do for the business. That said, we cannot forget the individual, as my friend and fellow Harvard blogger, Stew Friedman, demonstrates with approach to Total Leadership, individuals must be tuned into their inner selves and satisfy those specific needs if they are to be truly effective, especially over the long term.
Executive coaches are business professionals; like all consultants who succeed they have learned to adapt to changing business conditions and respond to evolving developmental needs. And that may be a hidden benefit of the executive coaching process. Since most coaches work for a number of different businesses, good ones have experience working not only with different executives, but different cultures and disciplines. That provides coaches with a long view of how organizations respond to change and how those changes affect employees. That insight, over and above the coaching process helps individual executives gain perspective that they can apply to help their organizations manage tough times as well as good ones.
First posted on HBR.org on 5.21.2009